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The Warsaw Voice » Business » May 31, 2012
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Game On
May 31, 2012   
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The UEFA Euro 2012 soccer tournament promises to be a one-of-a-kind event. Even though the European championships are being held for the 14th time, no national team has managed to win the tournament twice in a row. If fancied Spain repeat their success from four years ago, they will make history.

The European soccer championship dates back to 1960, when it was held under the name of the European Nations Cup. The event brings together the best national teams in the old continent. Until 1976 only four teams played in the tournament; from 1980 to 1992, eight teams participated; and since 1996, 16 teams have taken part each time. In the future, the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) wants to increase the number of participating teams to 24. But this will not happen until 2016 at the earliest.

State of play
Before teams get to play in the tournament, they have to qualify for it. Teams fielded by all the national soccer associations affiliated in UEFA take part in the qualifying round—a total of 53 squads unless they fail to be entered by a specified deadline by their national soccer associations or if UEFA suspends these countries as members. The qualifying round begins two years before the tournament with a draw of the qualifying groups. The teams subsequently play qualifiers within these groups. The final tournament, or the European Championships proper, comprises a group stage followed by a knockout stage in which the losing team is eliminated from the tournament. The best teams from the qualifying round plus the host nation/nations play in the final tournament.

Chance for Poland
For years Poland had problems qualifying for the tournament. Polish soccer players watched the first 12 tournaments on television, and many joked that the only chance for Poland to play in the European championships was to become a host country. This opportunity finally materialized with the help of Hryhoriy Surkis, head of the Football Federation of Ukraine (FFU), who came up with the idea of holding the tournament in Ukraine. However, Surkis knew that Ukraine would be unable to host such a big event on its own, so he talked the authorities of the Polish Football Association (PZPN) into supporting a plan for Ukraine and Poland to jointly host the championships.

In 2003, PZPN and FFU signed a cooperation agreement in the Ukrainian city of Lvov. That meeting was the first time the Polish Football Association ever gathered abroad. In addition to the sports community, Poland and Ukraine’s efforts to co-host the European championship finals were supported by the governments and public of both countries. At a presentation in Cardiff, Wales, that was closed to the media, the heads of the two associations, Poland’s Michał Listkiewicz and Ukraine’s Surkis, were accompanied by the national team coaches at the time, Leo Beenhakker and Oleg Blokhin. The then Polish president Lech Kaczyński and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yushchenko also attended the event.

Victorious second vote
The Polish-Ukrainian bid was not at all the favorite. In the first stage of a ballot held by UEFA officials to choose the host country, Poland and Ukraine received only seven votes, and entered the final stage of selection with the worst result. Italy won the most votes, 11, and Croatia/Hungary got nine. However, after the second round, UEFA head Michel Platini pulled a card from the envelope that read “Poland & Ukraine.” It turned out that Poland and Ukraine had received eight votes, Italy four, and Croatia/Hungary none.

Meanwhile, the Polish soccer players unexpectedly advanced to the Euro 2008 tournament in Austria and Switzerland. This was the first time Poland ever qualified for the European championships. However, the Polish team did a poor job in Austria, failing to make it through the group stage. Many fans blamed British referee Howard Webb, who awarded a penalty kick in the 93rd minute of Poland’s match with Austria—a decision that some commentators and soccer experts described as controversial. Austria’s Ivica Vastić converted the penalty into an equalizer for Austria, a goal that eliminated Poland from further competition. The referee’s decision also drew criticism from Polish officials including President Lech Kaczyński, who was at the Vienna match, and Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Webb, a police sergeant in his day job, visited Warsaw in early May this year for a training program for the referees of the Euro 2012 tournament. He said he was delighted with Warsaw and did not want special security measures to protect him from Polish soccer fans angry over the penalty he awarded Austria in 2008.

Poland prevails
Long before officials in EU countries threatened to impose diplomatic sanctions on Ukraine and said they would boycott this year’s European soccer championship matches in Kiev, Donetsk, Lvov and Kharkov in protest against the alleged abuse of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, most of the teams participating in the tournament chose their bases for the duration of the event. Although UEFA tried to fairly divide Euro 2012 events between the two co-hosts, 13 of the 16 participating teams chose to reside in Poland.

In the first phase, teams from two groups will be playing matches in each host country: Groups A (Poland, Russia, Greece, and the Czech Republic) and C (Spain, Italy, Ireland, and Croatia) in Poland, and Groups B (the Netherlands, Germany, Portugal, and Denmark) and D (Ukraine, England, France, and Sweden) in Ukraine. However, five of the eight teams in the “Ukrainian groups” will be based in Poland: all the Group B teams and England from Group D. They are not even bothered by the prospect of making long flights. For example, the Danes will have to travel 1,700 km from the Polish city of Kołobrzeg to Ukraine’s Kharkov for their match against the Netherlands on June 9. The Germans will have to travel an only slightly shorter distance from the northern Polish city of Gdańsk, and the Portuguese will have to travel to Ukraine from the western Polish town of Opalenica near Poznań.

Gains or losses?
The owners of the accommodation centers are rubbing their hands with glee. According to calculations by the Polish public television broadcaster, TVP, the Portuguese will pay the most for their stay in Poland. Each day spent at the luxury Remes Sport & Spa hotel in Opalenica will set them back 33,000 euros. The Russians, who will be based at Warsaw’s Bristol Hotel, will pay only slightly less, 30,000 euros per day.

The red-and-whites—as fans call the Polish team—will be paying 24,000 euros for each day of their stay at the Hyatt Hotel in Warsaw. The Irish team, which will be based at the Sheraton Hotel in Sopot, a resort on the Baltic coast, will pay 1,000 euros less per day than the Polish team.

Spain, the defending champions, will be staying in Gniewino, a small town in the northern Pomerania province. Ensconced away from big-city hustle and bustle, they will pay “only” 4,700 euros per night, roughly seven times less than the Portuguese.

Cracow is the most popular location among Polish cities when it comes to team bases. It will be playing host to three teams: England, the Netherlands and Italy. To be exact, the Italians will be based in Wieliczka near Cracow, and will be paying just over 10,000 euros per day. England and the Netherlands will pay 19,000 euros and 16,000 euros per day respectively.

It is anybody’s guess just how much money the crowds of visiting fans, who could number one million, according to some estimates, will leave behind in Poland. Meanwhile, the Polish authorities are hoping that visiting fans will behave themselves so that the hosts are not left counting the costs of hooliganism.

Agnieszka Dokowicz

The European soccer championships are being held for the 14th time this year.

So far, no country has managed to win the tournament twice in a row.

Host nations won the tournament only three times: Spain in 1964, Italy in 1968, and France in 1984.

Unlike in the World Cup, the winners of Euro 2012 do not qualify automatically for the next tournament.

The last third-place match was played at the European championships in 1980. Ever since then, there have been no third-place matches. Both losing semifinalists walk away with bronze medals.

France’s Michel Platini scored the most goals, nine, during a single tournament—in France in 1984.

Israel takes part in the qualifying stage for the European championships along with European nations. For political reasons, Israel has asked to be admitted to UEFA. This is because most Arab countries opposed Israel’s participation in similar competitions in Asia.

Poland qualified for the tournament only once before, in 2008; Ukraine is taking part in the championship finals for the first time.

Warsaw - The National Stadium
Capacity: 58,000 seats
Stadium dimensions: 259 x 227 x 50 metres (plus 70-metre high needle)
Roof area: 64,800 m2
VIP boxes: 69 (800 seats) plus 900 spaces for the media
Business-class seating: 2,000
Fan Pub: 1,800 m2
Seats for the disabled: 106
Gastro outlets: 30
Cash desks: 135
Parking spaces: cars – 1,758, coaches – 450

Gdańsk - PGE Arena
Capacity: 42,000 seats
Stadium dimensions: 236 x 203 x 45 m
Roof area: 44,000 m2
VIP boxes: 40
Business-class seating: 1,383
Fan Pub: 970 m2
Gastro outlets: 24
Cash desks: 113
Parking spaces: cars – 2,171, coaches – 74

Poznań - The City Stadium
Capacity: 42,000
Stadium dimensions: 220 x 213 x 56 metres
VIP boxes: 45
Business-class seating: 1,100
Seats for the disabled: 266
Gastro outlets: 27, with 221 stands
Parking spaces:
on the stadium premises – 200 coaches / 1,400
cars; in the vicinity – 400 coaches / 6,000 cars

Wrocław City Stadium
Capacity: 44,308 seats, covered, incl. 42,771 for regular fans
Stadium dimensions: 272 x 224 x 39.33 m
No. of storeys: 6
VIP accommodation (Gold, Silver, Bronze, in the west and
east sectors): 2,130
VIP boxes – 20, incentive bays – 10
Catering on the promenades: total length of bar areas on
the promenades: 290 m
Parking: extensive, including a four-storey car park
adjacent to the stadium

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